Artemis Moon Program Advances – The Story So Far
NASA has just announced a major step forward in its plan to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024: task order awards to three commercial partners to deliver NASA science and technology instruments to the Moon. This is one of many recent milestones to come in our new Artemis program to explore the Moon.
On April 9, NASA expressed its commitment to a timeline of landing humans on the lunar south pole by 2024, The agency’s lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phased approach: the first is focused on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon in five years – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. NASA will use an orbiting lunar outpost called Gateway to access the Moon. The agency is targeting launch of the power and propulsion element in late 2022.
Planning this program requires many different pieces, including new technologies and partnerships. Developments on all fronts are moving ahead rapidly. Here’s a summary of recent progress with Artemis.
A Charge Forward
The Artemis program will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024 and develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028. The program takes its name from the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology.
Our Moon to Mars exploration approach is outlined in Space Policy Directive-1, which President Trump signed into law in December 2017. In one of the first steps to accomplish this bold goal, NASA announced its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which companies under contract can bid on delivering science and technology payloads to the Moon. These public-private partnerships will be essential to the development of Artemis program by helping us study the Moon ahead of a human return.
Astronaut Health Projects Selected
Astronauts face a very different environment in space than on Earth, and scientists are still investigating the many possible impacts of spaceflight on the human body. On April 30, NASA selected 12 proposals for projects related to studying astronaut health and performance during future long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. These include what effects stress and sleep disturbances in space may have on the brain function, as well as how the immune system responds to simulated microgravity.
The 12 projects will help prepare astronauts for what they may experience on missions to the Moon, and eventually Mars.
Sending humans to the Moon by 2024 will require funds specifically for this endeavor. On May 13, President Trump announced a budget amendment for fiscal year 2020 of $1.6 billion to put NASA on track to accomplish this feat.
New Technologies from Small Business
A sustainable human presence on the Moon and sending astronauts to Mars will require a variety of new innovations. On May 14, NASA announced small business awards totaling $106 million that included technologies in the areas of human exploration and operations, space technology, science, and aeronautics. The awards green-lit 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses.
Many of these selected projects have direct applications to Artemis and other future human exploration endeavors. For example, the technology behind solar panels that deploy like venetian blinds can be used as a surface power source for crewed missions on the Moon and Mars.
Human Lander Prototypes
NASA is planning to get astronauts to the lunar surface and back through a multi-part landing system. They will start on the Gateway orbiting lunar outpost and ride down to low-lunar orbit in a spacecraft called a “transfer element.” Then, a different spacecraft called the “descent element” will take them down to the Moon’s surface. An ascent element will take them back to the Gateway. NASA is investigating ways to make these systems reusable through refueling.
On May 16, NASA selected 11 companies to advance technology to land humans on the Moon. The companies will conduct studies and build prototypes for the Artemis program. These projects will relate to the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system.
Power and Propulsion Element
The ambitious Gateway lunar outpost, which will enable access to more of the Moon than ever before, will need power, propulsion and communications capabilities. On May 23, NASA announced that Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, in Westminster, Colorado, would develop and demonstrate these capabilities for the Gateway through a component called the “power and propulsion element.”
The power and propulsion element, the first element of the Gateway that will launch to lunar orbit, is a spacecraft itself. It will fly by means of a technology called solar electric propulsion, but with three times more powerful than what has flown so far. This power and propulsion element will provide communications relays, including for human and robotic landers as well as visiting vehicles. NASA is targeting a launch of this element no later December 2022.
Artemis I, II, and III
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke about the Gateway element and Artemis in general on May 23 at the Florida Institute of Technology. He outlined that the Artemis I mission will send the first human spacecraft to the Moon in the 21st century through a test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system. Artemis II will be the first flight of human crew to the Moon aboard this SLS-Orion system. And Artemis III will send the first crew to the lunar surface. You can view these details and more here [PDF].
On May 31 as part of the CLPS initiative, NASA selected the first three commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. Representatives from each company explained their concepts in a televised event at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. These missions will acquire new science measurements and enable important technology demonstrations, whose data will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for astronauts to return to the Moon by 2024.
Written by Elizabeth Landau